Blood on the Tea Leaves: GOP 'Poll Watchers' Allegedly Warning Black Voters of Fake Laws

In a striking juxtaposition, TV viewers tonight can choose between a documentary about voting rights in Mississippi 50 years ago or they can watch the same issue playing out in primary returns. Tonight, we'll see if TEA Party "poll watchers" were successful in discouraging black voters. In the South, the more things change... the more they don't.

We’d like to reiterate what’s going on here: Conservatives will be training “poll watchers” in Mississippi to monitor the activity of black voters. It’s amazing, and sad, to see how quickly things have devolved into awful Mississippi stereotypes here. Just a couple of weeks back, Thad Cochran’s team decided, hey, we should try to appeal to black voters. And almost instantly we have a volunteer army of “election observers” descending upon black polling sites. 

What will be the poll watchers’ argument, anyway? Are they just going to show up at polling stations and wave their hands around to scare people away? Not quite. They’re going to tell Democratic voters that if they vote in the Republican runoff while intending to vote for the Democratic candidate in the general election, they’ll be violating the law.
As election law professor Rick Hasen explains, though, the state attorney general has interpreted the law to mean that an observer may not challenge a voter unless that voter “openly declares that he or she does not intend to support the nominees of the party.” So we’ll have “poll watchers” coming down to warn voters about breaking the law when they won’t be, unless they stand up on a soapbox and sing about their intentions to vote for Democrat Travis Childers in the fall. 

Just to be clear about Mississippi law.  Voters who vote in one party's primary are prohibited from voting in the other party's runoff election, but that's not what's at issue here.  These "poll watchers" are planning to warn people that they're violating state law if they vote for Cochran or McDaniel today and then vote for Democratic opponent Travis Childers this fall. 

Um... are you not allowed to change your mind on a candidate at any time up until you feed the ballot into the voting machine?

Keep it up guys. In 2012, Republican efforts to suppress black voter turnout had the exact opposite effect:  it so outraged the community that black voter turnout increased over 2008 and surpassed white voter turnout.

On a related topic, tonight PBS airs a documentary about Mississippi's Freedom Summer.  This year is the 50th anniversary of that voter registration effort that brought hundreds of mostly-white college students to Mississippi to help register voters.  The organizers reasoned that the country would pay attention if white college kids were in danger (and they were: three people died that summer).   

Watch an preview clip of the show here.  



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